Accuracy in Media

Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton dismissed reader complaints that the paper is anti-Catholic, but admitted it could have done a better job in covering the different opinions of Catholics on a broad range of issues.

Pexton defended the paper at first by saying that the Post’s OnFaith blog has a wide range of voices including both conservative and liberal Catholics, but apparently the newspaper’s conservative Catholic readers weren’t buying it:

Still, many Catholic readers, particularly conservative ones, and the Catholic hierarchy at the Archdiocese of Washington and at the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, whom I spoke with at length last week, say that The Post just doesn’t get Catholics.

And Pexton noted that that in turn leads to other reader complaints about the Post’s coverage of Catholics:

They see most of The Post’s news as too political, too much about divisions within the church and the church’s position on divisive social issues, and not enough about the church in its many other roles.

Catholic Charities is the largest non-government social service agency in the area, for example, and it rarely gets covered, they say. Catholic schools have conducted a massive education program, nationally and locally, to train students, teachers and aides to recognize the signs of child abuse, in the wake of the priest sex scandals, but it is hard to get coverage of that effort. Liberal Catholic groups are quoted, but conservative or official voices not as much, they say.

They have a point. There are deep divisions within the church that Post reporting should accurately reflect. But sometimes The Post’s reporting and even editorials fall short in conveying the passion with which many Catholics hold their views, whether they be against the contraception mandate, gay marriage, and abortion or in favor of aid to the poor. It doesn’t mean that Post reporters or editorialists have to embrace those views, but they should accurately explain them in a ways all readers can understand. That, after all, is also part of getting at the truth.

It’s more than deep divisions, in my opinion, when the paper goes after former Republicans presidential candidate Rick Santorum by calling him a ‘cafeteria Catholic,” or Speaker John Boehner, while failing to give liberal Catholic politicians the same type of religious litmus test.

If the Post’s reporters and op-ed writers don’t “get Catholics” then they need to find some writers who do if they are really striving for accuracy and fairness. But that would probably mean dismantling the liberal perspective of the paper in order to do so — and that is an unlikely scenario.

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